Thursday, April 3, 2008

March's Reads--no fancy title this time

So March seems to have been less busy for me in terms of reading (in my mind, at least--feel free to mock me for feeling like a reading failure this month), but I managed to read some great books, and some so-so books. I predict April will be jam packed with reads as my current life situation doesn't have me interviewing for jobs or contemplating any in the immediate future. Combine that with the fact that I'm in the middle of some huge books that are truly tomes (so there, fellow bibliophiles!), and you have my present multi-tasking reading situation.

At any rate, on to the books du March.

How the Reformation Happened-Hilaire Belloc

I had read Joseph Pearce's biography on this larger than life man who walked the earth with G.K. Chesterton, and had read his poetry for children and celebration, but I had not read Hilaire Belloc's actual writings on serious matters. Speaking of his poetry, I recently experienced a sing along to two of his poems, which is a story for another time, and was quite enjoyable and magical. But I digress. This book presents his perspective on life in the 1500's and 1600's. He does a great job of contextualizing the several tumults which occurred in multiple European countries which get amalgamated and discussed by those of us living today as one homogeneous event known as the Reformation. Not only is that bad thinking, he argues that it's bad thinking to ascribe the events of those days as purely religiously motivated. He shows the facets to the situation and makes fascinating observations such as the fact that the Black Plague stirred up nationalism and separation between European countries which presaged the separation among different religious parties. They were there in spirit in warring factions who wanted power, but they gained their proverbial wings when the Church was split. Whether that was for good or ill is up to you to decide, but as for me I know that the event in itself was tragic and should be remedied. More of that later, when I discuss a book by a fellow Presbyterian, John Frame. Overall, this book was interesting. It was very focused on history but had some timeless comments on the philosophies at war in this war.

Survivals and New Arrivals-Hilaire Belloc

I promised myself to only buy (and consequently, to read) one book this month. After buying Belloc's book on the causes of the Reformation, I found out that there would be a meeting of the minds to discuss the greatness of Hilaire Belloc. Survivals and New Arrivals was to be the book of interest, so I had to buy a second book, to my pocketbook's chagrin. At any rate, this book was even better than his historical analysis of Luther et al. I was captivated by his arguments which were not only prescient but revealing of his time. I laughed out loud, I questioned my stance on many issues, and I came to experience what had been described in Pearce's biography of this man--his great wit and way of making incisive points about anything he tackled. In the case of this book, his subject matter was those things that attack the Church.
I can't wait to read some of his more esoteric work, especially The Path to Rome.

Evangelical Reunion: Denominations and the One Body of Christ - John M. Frame

This is a nice cartoon of John Frame, former student of Cornelius Van Til. I looked and looked but could not find an image of the cover of this book. Perhaps that speaks to its relative popularity (or lack thereof) among standard Reformed readers. Contrarian that I am, I highly enjoyed this book for its openness in admitting that the church is far too separated due to denominations. He sees the logical conclusion that is my own, which is that there should never be a multiplicity of denominations. Throughout the book there is a tension between admitting this and going forward to saying that Catholicism is good, but historically speaking there is a "one-up" for the Roman Catholics, at least with regard to this issue. I found his "back to the future" especially intriguing. In this road to unity, he contemplated (but rejected) a scenario where all churches that can affirm the Nicene creed would get together. This would, of course, include Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and the Coptic churches. It's hard to wrap one's mind around in some senses, but to me it 's clear that this is also part of the family of Christianity getting unity. I know my Catholic brethren will say this is unrealistic because of a lack of a principium unitatis, and my evangelical brethren will say this is an abuse of our liberty as Christians, but at the end of the day it's a great idea to chew on. The book was written in 1992 and in a 2000 update he expresses his unhappiness with the direction the family of God was in. What would he say today, I wonder? P.S. You can find this book online here

Evangelical Catholics-Keith Fournier

This book is by a Roman Catholic who describes that he shares much in common with Evangelicals of the more standard "Protestant" stripe. The book is autobiographical combined with an explanation of how one's evangelical zeal can flourish within the Roman Catholic Church. Because I've experienced this on a direct level with some friends, the book was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but it was informative nonetheless.
Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State - Daniel Dreisbach

I picked this book up because the subject is of interest to me and because the author is an acquaintance. I found it a very fascinating read, as it places Jefferson's life and writing in its historical context. After reading about the Danbury Baptists and others from those days, I think I understand the origin of the term "The Big Cheese".
The basic thesis of the book is that if one considers Jefferson in context, it's clear that the separation he calls for is an opposition to the federal government establishing a particular religion. He leaves the question open with regard to state governments, and points to the fact that Jefferson approved of days of prayer when he was in Virginia's state government, while he opposed such displays on the federal level a few years later. I agree with his interpretation of the facts overall, but am left wondering how this relates to a post-Lincoln era where the Federal government reigns supreme, and no powers are really left in the hands of the state government See, for example, the 10th amendment which states "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." One could persuasively call this a phantom amendment that is no longer existent, at least in comparison to the former amount of heterogeneity between states.

Danny The Champion of the World-Roald Dahl

My last book that was finished in March was a bedtime story read. This book is the first by Roald Dahl that is not entirely whimsical in its use of the imagination. One can actually imagine this happen in real life. I'm sorry to say that Mr. Wonka's creations must remain in the realm of fantasy, but such is life. This book features the standard wit of embracing the simplicity of childhood and the rejecting of "adult" "wisdom". The moral is great-it shows a boy's love of his father, and the fun they could have in trying to catch pheasants. A must read!

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